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Transgenic DNA Found in Conventional Seeds

by Cheryl Hogue
March 1, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 9

Both the Biotechnology Industry and activists concerned about the spread of bioengineered genes agree that recent findings of transgenic DNA in the seeds of conventional crops point to the need for U.S. government action. But they differ on what that action should be.

In a study released by the Union of Concerned Scientists last week, two laboratories examined seeds of six conventional varieties each of corn, soybeans, and canola. One lab found transgenic DNA in half of the corn, half of the soybeans, and all of the canola seeds. The other lab detected genetically engineered DNA in 83% of all seeds tested.

"It is a surprise for most consumers," UCS's Margaret Mellon says, adding that it is especially troublesome to organic food growers and to consumers who want to avoid genetically engineered food.

UCS is calling for the government to investigate the extent and causes of conventional seed contamination with transgenic DNA and to establish a reservoir of nonengineered seeds for food and feed crops.

But Lisa J. Dry of the Biotechnology Industry Organization counters that the finding of bioengineered genetic sequences together with conventional crop seeds is "not a huge surprise" because genetically engineered corn and soybeans are handled in the same machinery as conventional varieties.

She says the findings should spur the government to set a science-based threshold on the amount of transgenic DNA that is acceptable in conventional crops.


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